I have long had fun with the folks who call themselves “free traders.” Essentially, these are people who argue it is a high moral principle to eliminate any barrier to trade that might support the income of working class people, but suddenly get really stupid and defensive when we talk about barriers that support the income of professionals and the wealthy.
This means that a 10 percent tariff on imported steel is an outrage against all that is good and decent in the world. But when it comes to protectionist restrictions that prevent highly qualified foreign doctors from practicing in the United States, and bringing the pay of our doctors more in line with other rich countries, they suddenly have no idea what you’re talking about. (FWIW, we spend far more money on doctors than steel.)
The same story applies to patent and copyright protection. (Yes,that is “protection” as in protectionism.) These government-granted monopolies are treated as part of the world’s natural order. Instead of recognizing them as forms of protectionism, countries that don’t have patent and copyright rules as strong as in the U.S. are treated as being violators of free-trade.
In other words, “free trade” is a make it up as you go along rationale for ways to redistribute income upward. This is why I got a big kick out of seeing Charles Lane’s column today on the Export-Import Bank.
The Export-Import Bank is a mechanism for the U.S. to subsidize its exports by providing below…